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Pods are big business. 

The New York Times’s The Daily has been a runaway success. It is now bringing in $10 million in advertising a year (with a staff of around 15). Nearly four in ten 25-54 year olds in the US listened to a podcast in the last month, according to Edison Research, which also tells us that the average listener consumes seven podcasts a week.

There has been much talk of a podcast bubble, and the past few months has seen some corporate churn.  Buzzfeed pulled out of podcasts, while Panoply Media (now known as Megaphone and originally founded by the Slate Group), pulled out of editorial podcasting to focus on podcast ad-serving technology. Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg left to form a new podcasting venture with Malcolm Gladwell.

On the other hand, Spotify has announced, as part of a diversification strategy, that it will spend $500m on podcast investment, and it has already bought the Gimlet podcast platform as well as the podcast-creating service, Anchor.

Commercial growth seems clear – an Interactive Advertising Bureau/PwC study predicts $659m in podcast advertising by 2020 in the US, doubling since 2017 and up tenfold on 2012.  Financial services accounts for about 18% of that. Cost per thousand is the dominant pricing model, with two-thirds of advertising being “host-read”. Podcast demographics are strong: 31% of US podcast listeners have a household income of over $100,000.

What does this mean for communicating to financial audiences?  I’d like to look at podcasts from two perspectives: earned media – i.e. a company’s executive appears on someone else’s podcast; and owned media – i.e. a company producing a regular podcast of its own. I’ll have to leave the topic of podcasts as an advertising channel for another time.

Earned media

For podcasting as an earned channel, the main question is does a podcast regularly have guests on  Podcasts, most of which are not daily, are much more a comment channel than a breaking news channel. That affects the attitude to guests and can make the bar higher – they are there to say interesting things, but not about their company’s news.

Most earned “media podcasts” are run by a media company of some kind (there are some opportunities with think tank or pressure group podcasts).  Within media podcasts I’d identify three categories: podcasts run by a “print” outlet using its journalists as hosts (e.g. FT Money Show), free-standing podcasts (e.g. Breaking Banks), and broadcast channels packaging programmes into podcast form (usually unchanged).

Some of the podcasts from major business media are quite restrictive in terms of guest slots. The excellent FT Banking Weekly sometimes has guests, but not many. Slate Money and various Economist podcasts rarely do so. This may stem from a desire to profile their own journalists, and a belief that guests from the finance industry are often not compelling.

Guest commentary seems most prevalent in three areas: market commentary/investment strategy, personal finance, and fintech. There are fewer guests talking about areas like the business of asset management and wholesale banks, or about asset classes such as fixed income or commodities. It’s also true that CEOs in big finance are more cautious about media appearances. Some of the less tightly produced podcasts, for example in fintech and innovation, can let startup CEOs or VC investors talk at great length without robust interviewer challenge. Many of the best media podcasts are quite short.

In terms of editorial approach, many podcasts are in a middle ground between broadcast media and classic print media. Often the on-air presenters are journalists of the parent publications.  They may have some editorial support, but such podcasts do not yet have the broadcast world’s role separation into on-air presenters, specialist reporters, editors/producers and pure guest “bookers”. These on-air journalists bring their extensive connections and knowledge. 

Be smart when targeting podcasts. Understand what else the hosts are writing and how they consume information. Recognise that emails or phone calls saying “X would be a brilliant guest on your podcast” is not a sophisticated strategy. 

Integrate podcast targeting into your overall media strategy. Make it known that your spokesperson is a regular speaker on the conference circuit, and most of all, do all you can to make your spokesperson sparky when they meet the reporter.

Owned media

Because the technology is the same, it’s tempting to think of corporate podcasts as a near cousin of media podcasts. But the gap between owned and earned media in podcasts is as great as between, say, coverage in the Guardian and a corporate white paper.

Corporate or bank podcasts have made great strides. Many have been running for several years. Frequency tends to be less than for media podcasts: most are monthly at most.  This cadence requires longer shelf-life topics, and a more magazine style. Exchanges at Goldman Sachs is a successful example – one of the few financial firm podcasts, along with those of JP Morgan, McKinsey and Barclays, to hit the charts. It is hard, so far, to see large audience traction from corporate podcasts, but many are concerned with micro but influential audiences.

A successful corporate podcast needs breadth or depth.  The biggest financial firms have breadth across global topics. Or you can go for obsessive depth, and talk  only about leveraged loans or MiFIDII - but recognize you are close to entering the publishing business, and be sure you have the endurance (and the obsessive geek) to keep it up. Thinking hard about your content calendar, while keeping an eye for news, is critical.

Having regular hosts is helpful in building an audience and ensuring the tone is informal and light – not surprisingly some corporate podcasts find that challenging.  Deutsche Bank’s effort is quite authentic and edgy.

I am unconvinced that using a pure moderator without subject matter expertise adds much (big firms often have employed former broadcast presenters, some good, some less so). What you need most is an active lead host who can contribute themselves, in the way nearly all the best media podcasts do.

Marketing your corporate podcast is challenging. In a jumble of content sitting on websites, it can get forgotten about, which is why iTunes and its rivals are important.  One side reason for undertaking a corporate podcast is to get spokespeople used to broadcast interviews, and to show media podcasts that you have credible spokespeople who do well.

Podcasting yourself is quite a lot of work, even with the range of tools available. Some tools can convert your blogposts into podcasts automatically, but I remain to be convinced that artificial voices will prove to have a niche, given the plethora of excellent podcasts vying for attention.

To podcast is divine

For podcast industry commercial insights, I would turn in particular to Nicholas Quah’s long-running as well as the more recent

And yes, podcast, for better or worse, has become a verb.

Andrew Marshall is Cognito’s Deputy CEO